Would You Let Your Wife Teach in Public Schools?

As one of our regulars here suggested off-line, Tim Challies should sound so nuanced about movies (or stop slandering actors and actresses):

However, if we were to begin again today, I am quite sure we would not enroll our children in public schools. What concerns me is that our decision would not be based on conviction but fear, fear generated by statements we have heard from others about public schools and, in particular, about public school teachers. Over the years we have encountered hundreds of statements about the dangers of such teachers. We have been assured that public schools are the breeding ground for every kind of social evil, that they are the lair of predatory teachers, that they are full of tenured and unionized employees who care nothing for children. We have heard that public school teachers care only for ideology, that they will allow no leeway for Christian beliefs, that they will do their utmost to undermine the hard training of parents who attempt to raise their children with biblical ideals. In many Christian circles, public school teachers are made out to be the enemies of the faith.

Our experience of public school teachers has been far different and far more positive. And I don’t think we are the exception, not from what I’ve heard when speaking to people in my church, in my city, in my family, and even as I’ve spoken to many of you at conferences or churches or events. Of course some have had bad experiences, but not all. Not nearly all.

So in some spheres, the antithesis doesn’t go all the way down. It does in movies that show skin, supposedly. But imagine if Challies could concede that some films and tv shows that reveal flesh are “far different” from merely being about lust and “far more positive” in their portrayals of characters and social contexts. What if my experience of movies has not been all bad? That despite all the skin-avoiders say about “dirty” movies, these films and shows are about far more than lust, sex, adultery?

In other words, if you can entertain shades of gray with public education — one of the great sins for a certain strand of Calvinism — why not with television and film production? Conflicted minds want to know.

The Wife Test Fails Again

Would you let your wife play a role as soccer mom even if she kept her clothes on (via Tim Challies)?

My wife and I are wading through the murky waters of youth sports with our kids as well. They play for travel soccer teams, which keeps us busy each weekend for about two-thirds of the year. We have two children, but numerous sports-overwhelmed families have more.

There’s an idolatry problem in our community related to youth sports. I see this problem every weekend as families gather at the field rather than their church. It’s a problem in my heart, too.

I feel deep tension as we walk through this season of family life. Jesus makes it clear we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). And the taskmaster of sports success always demands my attention.

Or, would you let your wife play the role of a woman who drinks more than two glasses of wine in one sitting?

Paul tells the church at Corinth that they must not associate or eat with “anyone who bears the name of brother” and who is a “drunkard” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Why? Because drunkards (among others) “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Again, Paul says, “those who do such things (like get drunk) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Elsewhere, he commands, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Peter agrees: “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do (which includes getting drunk)” (1 Peter 4:3).

If not, why single out sex?

(all about) My Movie Idea

While Alan Jacobs is speculating on a script about rival realtors in Waco, Texas, the Baylys have me thinking about a movie about a letter to Congress. Having recently re-watched Broken Flowers (can’t get enough Billy Murray these days) and remembering the fairly vivid shots of a pink envelope winding its way through the USPS’ automated sorting system that open the movie, I wonder if someone could make a similar short about this letter from evangelical scientists to Congress. Here is the opening of the letter:

Dear Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and Members of the United States Congress:

As evangelical scientists and academics, we understand climate change is real and action is urgently needed. All of God’s Creation – humans and our environment – is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas. The negative consequences and burdens of a changing climate will fall disproportionately on those whom Jesus called “the least of these”: the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed. Our nation has entrusted you with political power; we plead with you to lead on this issue and enact policies this year that will protect our climate and help us all to be better stewards of Creation.

It goes on for a couple more paragraphs before seven (yes, 7!) pages of signatures.

This movie, after showing the letter’s advance through USPS hands (and machines) would then follow its advance to an assistant’s desk in the Capital Building, his or her disposition of the letter, and then what? Does it go to a staffer? Does it ever make it on Boehner’s desk? Who writes a response? Does anyone? And should the movie include tense scenes of evangelical scientists fervently awaiting a mere acknowledgement of the letter’s contents?

Then again, maybe no one ever sent the letter to Congress, in which case a letter is less a communication calling for action than a political gesture. Who knows? Screenplay writer’s call.

When the World is Breaking Bad

Mrs. Hart and I finally had the chance to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and generally enjoyed it, though as is the case with most spy flicks, you don’t pay enough attention the first time through to figure out the villain (and once you know the villain in a second viewing the mystery that energizes a spy flick is gone). What continues to intrigue (all about) me about the genre of espionage movies is how indifferent Americans (and Europeans?) appear are to be to the morality of spying.

Most spy flicks take place in the context of the Cold War and presume that the United States (or the UK) is in a moral and political contest with the Soviets and the evils of Communism. Even if agents lie, kidnap, kill, and steal, agents of the CIA and MI6 are on the side of good, and the preservation of liberty and the American way requires intentionally breaking eggs. Broken shells and wasted yokes are the price of doing business.

Parenthetically, one of the curious features of debates over the Obama Administration’s handling of incident at the embassy in Libya is to see folks who grew up distrusting the CIA and calling cops “pigs” now having to rely on those very same intelligence agents to justify their decisions, actions, and authority. Boomers once envisioned a world where intelligence would be unnecessary and its immoral associations eliminated. A funny thing happened on the way to running a superpower — the realization that espionage and intelligence gathering are par for the superpower course. In which case, when it comes to international affairs, Obama depends upon secretive and duplicitous spies as much as tricky Richard Nixon and Slick Bill Clinton.

As I say, most Americans (aside from the pacifists) are immune to the moral compromises involved in living in a superpower. Our global hegemony depends in some way on a lot of craftiness and worse. Whether our security requires it is another matter. (Do we need to fear Mexico or Canada?) No politicized preacher of the Religious Right or neo-Calvinist persuasion I know has taken on the military-industrial complex or the ethics of agencies like the CIA. And yet, w-w advocates would have us think that the great instances of defective thinking and spiritual decline in the United States are policies and laws regulating human sexual desires. In point of fact, the United States likely lost her innocence well before the sexual revolution, that is, she lost it at least when she decided to wage an international war against the spread of Communism. Europeans like the Brits have never seemed to be as troubled by the ethical compromises involved in ruling and protecting a nation’s global footprint. Americans, by contrast, prefer thinking of their nation as one innocent of European decadence and intrigue. That preference may be a condition for demonizing those who break some of the Ten Commandments and not other parts of God’s law.

But on the upside, the new character in Breaking Bad (formerly Larry Sanders’s agent) is welcome a welcome development even if the series continues to depend on Dooms Day scenarios like divorce, girlfriends’ deaths, RV battery failures in the desert, suicide turtles, and airline crashes. Those extraordinary moments of Walt’s and Hank’s life make me think experimental Calvinists would prefer Breaking Bad more than confessional Protestants since the latter know the value of the ordinary and routine over excitement and glitz.

What the Cats Missed this Week

I am a fan of Canadian cinema and a lover of cats. This combination made Good Neighbors a reasonably good pick. The movie is set in Montreal and is film noir lite, with cats playing important parts in the story line. I could have done without the slasher aspect of a couple scenes, aging metrosexual that I am. But still worthwhile.

I also took a look at the original movie version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. It is set in 1950s Saigon and explores dimensions of the civil war that will entice the United States to fight communism in Southeast Asia. Greene’s depiction of American idealism and naivete about foreign policy is particularly astute, though it may also stem from resentment that the Brits are no longer running the world. This is a better movie than the remake, though Craig Armstrong’s soundtrack for the 2002 version may tip the scales in the other direction.

For anyone who cares about Breaking Bad, I took another try at episode five of season one. I began to see a little more of the appeal. But I also identified two reservations that may prevent me from jumping on the BB bandwagon, and they are related. First, unlike The Wire, Breaking Bad has no urban credibility. I understand it is not supposed to be set in a city or in the Northeast. But without an urban dimension, the show so far lacks an edge. Meth in the suburbs just doesn’t grip the way that heroine in the city does. And this leads to the second reservation. The show has no obvious sense of place. If Breaking Bad doesn’t want to tap the rhythms and sense of Baltimore drug-running, or the New Orleans music scene (Treme), fine. But how about giving us a feel for the Southwest? Maybe I have not paid close enough attention, but I have not yet identified the actual city, suburb, or state in which the show takes place. For (all about) me, without this sense of place, Breaking Bad will always come up short compared to The Wire.

One last comment. Isabelle and Cordelia do not sleep through my listening to Phil Hendrie, the funniest man in North America. I subscribe to his website and so can stream his shows whenever I want, which is usually at the end of the day before dinner. It a talk-radio show where Phil is the voice both of the host and guest who talk about a crazy premise and elicit flabbergasted callers who think the interview is real. He has almost 60 different characters, from Margaret Grey, a syndicated columnist who writes “A Little Bird Told Me,” to Jay Santos, a Brigadier General in the Citizens Auxiliary Police. Phil does three hours of comedy gold every weeknight, which means he does more material in one week than Larry David does in an entire season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Anyone interested should know that Phil now has a free website where people can listen to clips from old shows. I also hear that you can make Phil Hendrie a radio station at Pandora.com.

What the Cats Missed This Week

Disruptions in routines this week reduced the opportunities for viewing movies. Those challenges did not prevent Isabelle and Cordelia from sleeping every night after dinner.

The week started with a Turkish movie, Distant, from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, one of Turkey’s leading directors according to The New Republic‘s Stanley Kaufmann. It is slow in the manner of a Krzysztof Kieslowski but not as full of dialogue as the Polish director’s films. Its portrayal of Turks coming to terms with modernization is understated but thoughtful. Worth seeing even if you have not recently taken a trip to Turkey.

Then we reverted to the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm — our first disk from Netflix. We had seen these six episodes before but I had not remembered them very well. They are clearly funny and their humor is all the more catchy because of the nervous tension created by embarrassment for Larry David (much like you cannot believe how impolite David Brent is in The Office). What I find remarkable is Larry David’s observations about etiquette and manners, and his defense of them in many occasions. This is not Henry James’ study of morals and manners, of course, but when Larry discusses with Jerry Seinfeld whether he needs to call back a friend after his cell signal dropped, he is putting his finger on precisely the ambiguities that lurk in so many contemporary interactions among people. (My favorite from an earlier season is when Larry is walking with Ted Danson — as if they ever walk in So Cal — and wants to put an apple core — the remainder of what he has just eaten — in a neighbor’s trash can positioned by the curb and discovers that notions of private property extend not simply to not littering on someone else’s yard but to not even having access to their trash can.)

With the Mrs. away for part of the week, I decided to give Breaking Bad another try. I thought starting with episode three of Season One would get me past the removal of the bodies. But it did not. I persisted, but the series has not yet gripped me. I do remember that it was not until the sixth episode or so of The Wire that I was hooked. So I will not give up yet. But I am doubtful.

Finally, I watched This is England, again without the better half, suspecting that she would not have much of an interest in a movie about skinheads in the U.K. during the early 1980s. I’m sure if I knew more about English history and politics, the writer’s decision to surround this story of a 12-year old boy drawn into a gang with clips from the Falkland War would have made more sense. The most I could pick up was the same kind of disapproval for skinheads as for Maggie Thatcher’s foreign policy. Without the politics, the movie might have been really good. As it was, it was kind of good.

What The Cats Missed This Week

At the instigation of our web administrator and designer (whose name will be kept secret to protect the allegedly innocent), a new series commences with this post — namely — what movies, dvds, or television episodes the Harts watched this week. The series name stems from the remarkable habit of our cats, Isabelle and Cordelia, to sleep through whatever we watch. Odd for cats to sleep so much, no?

One other word of introduction: since some readers mistake this blog as a form of ministry, do not take this or ensuing reports as an endorsement for all Christians. Since Paul wrote that some believers could handle meat offered to idols and others could not, readers of Old Life should consult any title for themselves before watching or ordering. IMDB is a good web resource for movies and television and should provide enough information to warn consciences appropriately. Rottentomatoes is another source for reviews of movies that I use occasionally. Readers will need to rely on their own powers of discernment.

The week started with Troubled Water, a Norwegian movie (subtitles, of course) about an ex-con who tries to make good life by playing organ for a church and befriending the female pastor’s boy. Since his crime led to the death of a boy, and since he returns to the town where the deceased boy’s family lives, his attempt to resume life is — let’s just say — complicated. The film is another reminder of how easy it is to make people who commit wicked acts into monsters (when we never see the monster in the mirror).

The week continued with the first three episodes of season three of In Treatment. Gabriel Bryne continues to play his role as a psychologist with lots of baggage in a mesmerizing way. The producers and directors also continue to make counseling sessions riveting. It was good to see Debra Winger on the screen again.

Also this week I persuaded the Mrs. to go to the theater to see Ted — and I lived to tell about it. I figured we needed to get out of the rut of staying in and streaming. So we went to the local theater, not exactly an art house establishment, and saw the best on display. Angelo Cataldi and company had recommended this movie, so I had misgivings. It was like so many Hollywood comedies, an interesting premise — a talking teddy bear who is a lifelong companion of the person who first received the stuffed animal as a gift. But once you get past the first prank of the teddy bear as grown up — smoking a bong and swearing — the movie descends into debauchery and juvenilia. Subtlety is not a three-syllable word that Hollywood does well, even though the writers did get off at least a half-dozen guffaw producing lines.

Last (it was a slow week in Hillsdale, alright?), we watched Welcome to Sarajevo, a 1997 movie about the Balkans War. Stephen Dillane, whom I like a lot, plays a journalist who turns activist and helps Muslim orphans to leave the city. The film seems to include a lot of footage from the war, which is hard to watch. The human story line is compelling but for me it could not offset what seemed to be a missed opportunity to explore a part of the world that the West has never come lost to understanding, perhaps because the Ottomans, Turks, and Muslims spook too readily.

I Loved "The Artist" because Jesus Made It

Well, technically, Jesus was not the director, producer, or screen writer. But he is the creator of all things and he did produce the remarkably clever creators of “The Artist.” It is particularly good at evoking the early period of Hollywood — the time of the silents — and how radical the shift was to talkies. At the same time, it shows how charming those silent films were, even in suggesting the genre may have life in it still.

The reason for bringing Jesus into my enjoyment of “The Artist” is simply to remind the those who want Christian piety to be always visible and earnest that the joy — see, I can say it — that believers experience at the movies need not be in competition with their trust in Christ or desire to glorify him. John Piper has a post about Christians who take more pleasure than they should in movies:

What should you do if you know someone who seems to be more excited about movies than Jesus?

Many professing Christians give little evidence of valuing Jesus more than the latest movie they have seen. Or the latest clothing they bought. Or the latest app they downloaded. Or the latest game they watched. Something is amiss.

We are not God and cannot judge with certainty and precision what’s wrong. There is a glitch somewhere. Perhaps a blindness going in, a spiritual deadness at heart, or a blockage coming out. Or some combination. Christ doesn’t appear supremely valuable. Or isn’t felt as supremely valuable. Or can’t be spoken of as supremely valuable. Or some combination.

One important weakness in Piper’s point is that he begins with the word, “seems.” The great problem with the piety he promotes is that none of us can see into the heart so that every display of piety, from raised hands and psalm singing to sermon listening and eating the bread of the Lord’s Supper, only seems to be indicative of an inward reality. The joy that members of Bethlehem Baptist exude is not inherently more reliable a guide to genuine devotion than the Orthodox Presbyterian who memorizes the catechism.

But the bigger problem is that Piper does not seem to acknowledge that joy may take different forms. I was incredibly happy when the Phillies won in 2008. I was feeling much more energized that October night than any time I have left a church service. Did that indicate that I took more joy from the Phillies than I do from Christ? Maybe, and if I continue to wear my Brad Lidge long-sleeve T-shirt to worship the elders may need to pay a visit. But sometimes ephemeral pleasures produce intense experiences of joy. Eventually, those emotions fade and recede in importance compared to the ongoing and deeper joy a believer experiences in the week-in-week-out attendance on the means of grace. In other words, celebration is not joy and that distinction would have gone a long way to deciding the worship wars (that Piper’s piety unwittingly abets through an earnestness that rarely distinguishes between excitement and joy).

I would bet that Piper himself even knows this difference even if he does not talk about it. I suspect that he was remarkably joyful when his first child walked, or better, said, “daddy.” Was he at that point more excited about the love of a child than his love for Jesus? To an observer it might seem so. But to an Old Lifer, who knows that all of life is a gift of God, and that temporal joys are good but not ultimately great, Piper’s delight in a child’s development would not qualify as a sign of infidelity. To set up such a competition — the more you delight in aspects of human existence, the less you love Christ — is to take the joy out of life. How sad.

Update: Lunch with Cordelia

HexTurns out I went with my carbohydrate friendly and folk heritage – Pennsylvania Dutch – for lunch. (You may breath now.) The turkey salad on Amish sandwich roll was enjoyable as I watched Blood Simple next to the kitten with teeth and claws from hell.

BTW, has anyone noticed how great Carter Burwell’s scores are for the Coens, and that barely no one else in the movie business seems to use him. What’s up with that?

Then I decided to be productive. I purchased a shopping cart for post-automobile urban life en route to purchasing a case of Yards IPA.

In case you thought that was a full day, I am now posting at oldlife.org before Secret Cinema, mind you.

How could Twitter ever do justice to such a day?

Thanksgiving with the Coens?

lone biker of apocThe e-message this week from the nice folks at Christianity Today included a list of the five best movies on thankfulness. According to Annie Young Frisbee (imagine if she had married into the Boomerang clan) the Coen brothers come in at number five with – drum roll – Raising Arizona. She writes:

An ex-con and an ex-cop kidnap one of the Arizona quintuplets in hopes of creating the family they couldn’t have on their own. On the run from the law and a bunch of outlaws, their journey leads them to be grateful for the joys they have always had.

Raising is a great movie but hardly the warm fuzzy that Ms. Frisbee makes it out to be since the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse is an omen of the killer in No Country for Old Men, and the last line, said by H. I. while overlooking a Thanksgiving Day spread, about a fairer future for him and his beloved, mocks Utah. This means that it concludes with a swipe at the support Mormons gave to family values during those years when Reagan – that “sumbich”– was in the Whitehouse. (Frisbee’s take on Raising may confirm Ken Myers’ clever line that “evangelicalism is making the world safe for Mormonism.”)

For that reason, a better Thanksgiving Day pick may be Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. Yes, it has its dark moments and Woody’s funny but starting to get old complaints about love and death. But it begins and ends with a sumptuous Thanksgiving Day meal, and it is probably Allen’s most uplifting movie – ever.

The choice for the Harts in 2009, though, is Accidental Tourist, a movie based on the novel by Anne Tyler that is set in Baltimore – a plus for all fans of Machen and Mencken – and features an idiosyncratic family and their methods of cooking turkey. Yum, yum.